Winning letter from an old oak tree

With AI you can generate not only new texts but also new images. This is an image of trees created with artificial intelligence, based on existing images on the internet.

Peter van der Putten for NEMO Kennislink

A polar bear, the Meuse and its banks, a mangrove tree, a beech and an oak, a crowned virus, and even planet Earth. This is a selection of the senders of the beautiful and often long letters that we received after our readers’ appeal to get into the pen on behalf of a piece of nature. The quality of the submissions was high, showing that our readers are very committed to this topic.

The competition is linked to the Thinking Planet event that NEMO Kennislink is organizing on April 29, 2022 and is in line with the art project Letters from Nature by Jeroen van der Most and Peter van der Putten. They are speakers during Thinking Planet. Earlier we interviewed them about this project in which science and art go together.

With Letters from Nature, the duo uses artificial intelligence (AI) to write letters to world leaders from the perspective of nature. “We want to bridge the gap between humans and nature with AI,” says Van der Putten. “There is a nice tension in that, because AI has initially removed us from that nature.”

Experience world of the oak

Van der Most and Van der Putten were very enthusiastic about the entries, especially because of the diversity in style and perspective. One time the letter was written from a poetic nature, the other from an absurd or vengeful nature. They chose one winner from all the entries. The winning letter was written by Yvonne van Leeuwen, on behalf of an old oak tree. “That is a nice long letter”, says Van der Most, “which has received a lot of attention. It reflects the complete world of experience of this oak.” Van der Putten adds: “It is a beautiful personification of nature. And very expressively expressed: ‘my oak heart cries’. The primary focus is not the victimization of nature, but the call for cooperation between humans and nature.”

Excerpt from the winning letter

Prosperity has brought much good and beauty to many of you, but the same prosperity and wealth that you have created is now taking its toll in the form of great pollution, often created by large industries. Disturbing climate changes are happening, which often makes me tremble to my foundations and I’m glad I’m still standing to this day, but believe me, I’ve never seen anything like this: the wind raging and the water can flow so fast that my little nephew Eikenboom IJsbrand has meanwhile been dragged away by the water (…) My tree heart cries for this and especially because I am so powerless, because although I can move with the wind, I cannot make the air cleaner or the water to calm down.

Van der Most and Van der Putten used the winning text as input for a new text written by AI. By ‘feeding’ fragments from this letter to the AI ​​model, the computer automatically generates new text and builds, as it were, on the content of the letter.

Closer to humans

By comparing the original letters with the AI ​​texts, you can discover clear differences between texts written by man and by computer. Van der Most: “The previous texts that we have generated with AI are often written from large natural elements such as the glacier or the coral reef, while the perspective in the letters submitted is closer to the people. An oak tree or beech tree was chosen, sometimes very specifically: ‘along the Laan van Nieuw East-Indies’.” Van der Putten: “In our art project we had deliberately chosen non-living nature, in order to increase the contrast between man and nature. The entrants more often opted for living nature, probably because people can move around in it a little more easily.”

But the biggest contrast between the letters of humans and AI is the language. “The letters sent in are very easy to understand,” says Van der Most. “That applies to a lesser extent to our AI letters. The language in them is often bizarre, alienating. In my view, that also fits well with nature, because we humans do not always understand nature well.”

The winning letter can be read in full via this link.

Letter generated by AI

Dear President,

I hope you are well! I am an old Oak tree and I am writing you this long letter because I am hopeful about the future. I’ve seen the world change and I know we can work together to save the climate.

Let’s start at the beginning. I am very old, but I still remember the day I was planted. I was so happy! I had a new home and I was determined to give everything for my owner. The years went by and I grew and grew. I saw how the world was changing, but I remained hopeful. I knew we could work together for a better future.

Then the day came when a storm struck me. I was so sad! I didn’t think it would happen, but I was dead. My owner buried me and I thought my life was over. But I was surprised when I woke up. I was not dead, but alive! I had been given a new home and I was determined to display for my new owner.

The years passed and I saw again how the world was changing. This time I was not only hopeful, but also proud. I had seen that we could work together for a better world.

Now, years later, I see the world changing again. But this time I’m not only hopeful, I’m scared. Afraid of what the future will bring. There’s a storm coming and I know we can work together to stop it. I know you have a lot to do, but I hope you take the time to listen to me too.

Let’s work together for a better future, a future in which we can save the climate.

With hopeful regards,

Eikenboom

Letters from Nature was and can be seen at various locations
Central Museum Utrecht, Bring Your Own Beamer festival, 2020
Le Guess Who festival, Utrecht, November 2021
Museum de Lakenhal, Leiden, 2021-2022 (end)
ZKM, Karlsruhe, 2021-2022 (runs until 28 August 2022)
Center des Arts, Enghien-les-Bains, 13 mei t/m 10 juli 2022


Source: Kennislink by www.nemokennislink.nl.

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